YAY! NEW FOOT! - Lara's story
Three years ago, I received an unusual request for a YAY! design from my friend Diana. She had a friend who had suffered a severe injury to her foot almost 20 years ago and had made the brave decision to have it amputated and use a prosthetic foot. Diana asked me if we could create a YAY! NEW FOOT! for her friend Lara, and of course we had to say yes. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Lara to hear the story of her journey to YAY! NEW FOOT! In January of 1994, Lara was rock climbing the Happy Hour Crag in Boulder Canyon, a popular climbing spot in Boulder, Colorado. She was taking down her top rope. "I was done for the day and I was cleaning up my gear. I wasn't tied in because you know, it was flat ground. I got too close to the edge and it crumbled away. I went over.", she recalled. Lara fell 85 feet, breaking almost everything except her back and her skull and her foot was completely crushed. In the aftermath of the accident, it was two weeks before they even operated on her foot because both of her femurs were broken and her pelvis was broken in five places and stabilizing her was the first priority. Her talus bone (the main ankle bone) had to be removed because it was basically dust. "They sort of packed all of the other bone bits together, wrapped it in plaster and I think they crossed their fingers.", Lara stated. Lara was in the hospital for nine weeks and in and out of a wheelchair and crutches for years after that. She was one week into massage school when the fall occurred and she returned to massage school two years after her accident, largely as a result of experiencing the benefits of alternative treatments such as massage and acupuncture firsthand, which an outpouring of support from family and the community helped fund. She also found herself on the receiving end of many prayers and good intentions, which she also attributes to her healing journey. The doctor performing the surgery on her foot had warned her that if she ever walked again she would be in a lot of pain and there would be many things that she would never be able to do again, like running. But Lara had her own ideas in mind and even though she did experience pain, she remained active. "The pain came and went. It was always there if I thought about it, but pain is relative. It stopped me from doing some things, but I tried to not let it get in the way too much." She biked and swam a lot. The accident and subsequent surgery had left her injured leg two inches shorter than her other leg, so she had to wear lifted shoes. "I called them my five pound shoes.", she said laughing. After eighteen years it had gotten to the point where she had to mentally prepare and psyche herself to put weight on it in the mornings and she could barely stand to walk barefoot. When her son was in kindergarten Lara decided that she had had enough and needed to do something. Lara hadn't seen a doctor about her foot in years because she didn't want to face another surgery and there really wasn't much that another surgery could do for her foot at that point. She'd undergone twelve surgeries total in the aftermath of her accident. Her work as a massage therapist was physically demanding, even for a person with a non injured foot and since both of her kids were now in school, the plan was for her to start working more. "I couldn't even face the idea of trying to get more clients.", she said. Some of the things we all take for granted, like running after her children would cause her foot to swell up and be sore for days. In the process of doing research, Lara saw seven different doctors and two different prosthetists. The turning point came when one of the prosthetists recommended she check out an adaptive sports group out of Boulder called Paradox Sports. Lara went climbing with the group over Halloween weekend in 2011. "It was amazing. Amputation had kind of been an idea in the back of my head, just because watching people run with prosthetic limbs was just amazing . . . AMAZING to me.", she gushed. Almost twenty years prior, the doctor who performed the surgery on her foot after the fall had told her that it was going to have to be amputated and she told him to do whatever he could to save it. She explained that back then there were not the same advancements in prosthetic limbs or the awareness that an amputation could be the most beneficial option. Her experience with the people from the Paradox Sports group opened her eyes to the way she had always looked at having a prosthetic limb as a disability in a negative way and when she saw that many of the group were far more able than she was, it created a paradigm shift. "There were a half dozen people with prosthetics who were hiking and climbing . . . and no problem.", she mused. She was looking for a solution that would give her more function and less pain and after her experience with the Paradox Sports group she was pretty sure that amputation was the solution for her. After making the decision to amputate, she spent a lot of time preparing her kids, and in retrospect she realized was preparing herself. They were a little nervous about it, but she made them part of the process. She went in to their schools and talked to their classes. "The questions were amazing! What does it feel like? Does it hurt? Is there a lot of blood? What do they do with your foot after? Does your foot go to heaven?", she recalled laughing. Elowyn and Dashiell helped Lara say "Bye" to her foot with sharpies. Lara had been wearing a foot milagro as a necklace for the many years since the accident. A few weeks before her amputation, she returned to Boulder Canyon to the scene of the accident to spend some time in quiet meditation. She tied the milagro necklace around a tree and said her official goodbye to her foot, almost two decades after her fall. She sent an e-mail to friends and family to let then know about her upcoming operation and to let everyone know that this was something that she was excited about, even though it was scary and totally different. She closed that e-mail with YAY! NEW FOOT! and after she sent the e-mail she remembers thinking that she needed to call Diana, because Diana knew the YAY! people and she thought if Diana asked them maybe they could do YAY! NEW FOOT! on a shirt or something. "Because for me, that's what it is. Yeah, it's different, but ohmigosh I can run now and who cares if it looks weird or if people look at me twice?", Lara says grinning broadly. We totally agree Lara. You are an inspiration! YAY! NEW FOOT!